Bell Bank celebrates 15 years of Paying It Forward program and $25M in donations

It started with a few bank employees who wanted to help. Some 15 years later, Bell Bank's Pay It Forward program has led to employees donating $25 million to groups and individuals.

Brantlee Krsnak (center) with his class at Northern Cass. He is a recipient of Bell Bank's Pay It Forward program. Over the last 15 years, the program has generated $25 million for families and non-profits.
Contributed / Jenna Strand

FARGO — "The second you put music on and he's in a bad mood, that will change real quick," said Jenna Strand.

Strand knew something wasn't right with her then third-grader Brantlee Krsnak.

"(H)e started getting really bad headaches in the mornings and he would start throwing up," Strand said.

Multiple tests and scans revealed that Krsnak had a brain tumor. Word spread throughout his Northern Cass School and soon to workers at Bell Bank, where employees pooled their Pay It Forward dollars to donate thousands to Krsnak's family.

"It just proves there (are) just so many good people out there that don't know you but want to help," Strand said.


Krsnak is one of hundreds who has been on the receiving end of the employee led Pay It Forward program at Bell Bank. The program is celebrating 15 years and $25 million donated to people and nonprofits.

"We've been so proud of our employees over the past 15 years, that they are such good stewards of the dollars, and they really reflect their heart in what they want to do with those dollars," said Julie Peterson Klein, chief cultural officer with Bell Bank.

"Sometimes it can be a family, sometimes it's their church, sometimes it's a nonprofit. It can be whatever they choose and whatever's pulling at their heartstrings that year," she said.

Bell Bank awards each employee $1,000 or more a year. The workforce can pick their own recipient, or pool their money to really pack a punch financially in order to help someone or some group. Ten years ago, Trent Petrie of Dilworth needed a mobility chair.

Petrie was on the cover of People magazine in 1985 for being one of the tiniest premature babies to survive.

"The program is still thriving 15 years later and $25 million in giving, and I truly believe that's what changes our world," Klein said.

The spin off from all of this is that employees get to connect with their community, no matter the size, and a culture in the workplace that is a lot more than banking.

"What I love about it is it empowers us to make a difference. If we see a need, we can do something about it," said Tracy Frank, a content writer with Bell Bank.


Michael Solberg, Bell Bank president, said the company wanted the program to be outwardly focused on the community. "The magic happened immediately. It is a way for us to impact people on a daily basis,," he said.

Solberg praised the program for being an employee-driven, grassroots idea.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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